I did not get seven short stories written. I got two. And a half, which will probably end up as a novel that I won't be able to publish.
So what happened? Well, lack of commitment, I think. The first short story was more involved than I expected. It came out to about 7k words and I spent three days writing it. But in hours spent, I cheated myself. Normally I write from 7-9:30 plus what is usually a big, productive chunk of writing time from 7am or so until noon on Sundays.
Several times, I wrote for only an hour or an hour and a half. They were productive hours but I could do better (thanks Drake!). Other times, I allowed myself to get distracted with family or movies or just plain laziness (See Friday).
I did lose productive time on Saturday when I got a virus, damn it. That ate up two or so hours fixing.
I will say that the time spent watching movies did teach me some things about storytelling, at least in a negative sense. I watched Sucker Punch and 13 Ghosts (the remake). Frankly, with the latter, I'd rather have that time back for something more productive, like napping. Seriously. But it did teach me one or two things. So why not mention them now?
Things I learned from 13 Ghosts:1. Casting is everything. Casting Mathew Lillard and then directing him to play his annoying, spastic schtick to the max...well, it's no wonder this movie tanked. The movie opens with Lillard and never really recovers. Next, they cast a very unnecessary and pretty much worthless 'sassy black nanny' character (Rah Digga?). I honestly don't know what purpose she was supposed to serve, unless it was to try to pull in a black audience for the movie. She bordered on racially offensive and did nothing, plot-wise or character-wise. Every time she was on the screen, it was time taken away from character who could be actively furthering the plot or at least not annoying the audience. Then there were the kids...well, Shannon Elizabeth didn't embarrass herself but 'Bobby' was annoying like too many little kids are in movies.
--Lesson: Write characters that won't annoy your audience.
2. Infodumps suck. At several points in the movie, the scares are put on hold so one character can lecture another character on the laughable mythology of the story. This kills the momentum of the story, kills the suspense, kills it dead. If it NEEDED to be in the movie (and frankly, I doubt it), putting it up front and getting it out of the way might have been a better way to go, or alternately, letting the villain monologue the purpose of all the chaos at the end. Not ideal but better than bringing the story to a screeching halt in the middle when we need to be ratcheting up the stakes and tension.
--Lesson: Infodumps kill the momentum and take the audience out of the story.
3. A few clear antagonists are better than too many. 13 ghosts has some genuinely scary antagonists in this movie. Um, 12 is too many, though. As a result, some of the work spent creating these antagonists is wasted, since we can only focus on a few at a time. It would have been better to have three or four ghosts and have them act as the main antagonists. We have a finite amount of time in a movie and a finite number of pages in a novel. With 12 psycho ghosts, the effect is wasted. Also, with so many bad guys, we aren't clear which or who is the real antagonist. Several times, these ghosts simply 'looked' at the hapless characters, rather than doing anything bad to them. In the end, only three ghosts actually assault anyone. The rest were just...spooky pictures. If there had been one, it probably would have been more intense, oddly enough.
--Lesson: Make your antagonist clear to your audience and don't clutter your story up with too many characters.
4. Don't forget characters. The main character of the movie is actually Tony Schalhoub (who did the best he could with what he had). His main driving force is concern for his children, rightly so. But the children disappear, literally, halfway through the movie. We don't see who takes them, we don't see where they are, we don't know if they're in danger or if they're dead. The movie did this (I think) for a cheap reveal of the 'real' villain. (Which didn't work, see lesson 3, above). Not knowing where they were or what was happening to them felt sloppy. If you're going to introduce characters, stay with them until their fate is resolved. If they have to be absent, make it of short duration and have the other characters reference them. The movie did try to do this, Tony Schalhoub is constantly worried about his children, but it didn't work. For too much of the running time of the movie, these two characters are absent.
--Lesson: Use your characters, don't leave them out of your story for prolonged periods.
5. Wow, I could go on at length, it seems. There are a lot of negative lessons to learn from 13 Ghosts, but let me end on the most important one: Keep the tension tight.
If you're writing horror or suspense, you can start out in a natural, calm state. But once the antagonist is introduced, the state of tension should rise and rise until the climax and only during the denouement at the end, should you return to that calm state. There is a rhythm to horror, and you can spike things up and then release tension with humor or a reveal but the underlying tension should not give up. It should always trend upward. Infodumps (Lesson 2), annoying characters (lesson 1), too many characters (lessons 3 and 4) all killed the tension of the movie. There'd be a lot of running, some scary images and then...we'd jump to someone else's POV, who's not scared or running or threatened. Or there will be several minutes of infodumping. Or a character will be acting 'all crazy' in an attempt at humor. (Which never worked) And the movie would have to build tension all over again.
Lesson: Build tension from the beginning to the climax if you're writing suspense or horror.
Thirteen Ghosts is a bad movie but it didn't have to be. Clearly, a lot of time and effort went into making it and I'm sure the director, Steve Beck, had an intention of quality. The production design was amazing and the visual effects were good as well. However, I'm guessing a lot of stuff got cut to make its running time. The script and casting were problematic. I'll close with a lesson that affects us both, the director and screenwriter on his movie and me on my writing challenge:
I'm just sayin', you could do better.
Thanks again, Drake.